Virgin Orbit

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Virgin Orbit
PredecessorVirgin Galactic
FoundedMarch 2, 2017; 6 years ago (2017-03-02)
DefunctMay 22, 2023; 9 days ago (2023-05-22)
FateChapter 11 bankruptcy
United States
Key people
Dan Hart[1] (President and CEO)
Brita O'rear (CFO)
ServicesOrbital rocket launch
Total equity
  • Decrease US$47m (2023)
  • US$4b (2021)
Number of employees
100 (2023)

Virgin Orbit was a company within the Virgin Group that provided launch services for small satellites. The company was formed in 2017 as a spin-off of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space tourism venture to develop and market the LauncherOne rocket, which had previously been a project under Virgin Galactic. LauncherOne is an air-launched two-stage launch vehicle designed to deliver 300 kg of payload to low Earth orbit.[2]

On December 30, 2021, Virgin Orbit underwent a SPAC merger with NextGen Acquisition Corp, and became a publicly traded company (symbol VORB) at the NASDAQ stock exchange.[3] At the SPAC merger Virgin Orbit was valued at $3.7 billion in equity.[4]

LauncherOne made six flights from 2020 to 2023, resulting in four successes and two failures. After the second failure, in January 2023, and an inability to secure additional financing,[5] the company laid off 675 people, or approximately 85% of the staff and suspended operations in March 2023, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 22, 2023.[6][7] The company's remaining assets were sold off to various aerospace companies for a total of $36 million, less than 1% of the company's valuation upon IPO.[8]



On May 25, 2020, LauncherOne's first launch failed to reach orbit.[9]

On January 17, 2021, LauncherOne became the first Virgin Orbit vehicle to reach orbit, successfully deploying 10 CubeSats into Low Earth Orbit for NASA on its final demonstration mission.[10] LauncherOne was deployed from the left (port) wing of a retrofitted Boeing 747, 33,000 feet (10 kilometers) above the Pacific Ocean.[11] The rocket was dedicated to the memory of Eve Branson, mother of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, who died from COVID-19 on January 8, 2021.[12][13]

On June 30, 2021, LauncherOne successfully delivered its first commercial payload to space.[14]

On January 13, 2022, LauncherOne successfully delivered seven cubesats for three customers into orbit.[15]

On July 2, 2022,[16][17] LauncherOne flew a successful mission.

On January 9, 2023,[18][19] LauncherOne failed to orbit despite a nominal drop from the aircraft, with Virgin Orbit citing "an anomaly" with the upper stage.[20] The failed payload included nine satellites from seven different customers.[21] This was Virgin Orbit's first attempted launch from the UK at Spaceport Cornwall; previous launches were from Mojave Air and Space Port.

Cosmic Girl[edit]

Cosmic Girl is the name of the modified Boeing 747-400 that Virgin Orbit used to launch its rockets.[22] In 2022, Virgin Orbit announced plans to acquire additional 747s with the ability to transport the rocket and ground support equipment internally.[23]

Operations and financials[edit]

Based in Long Beach, California, at its founding in 2017, Virgin Orbit had more than 300 employees led by president Dan Hart, a former vice president of government satellite systems at Boeing.[24][25] The company from which it was spun off, Virgin Galactic, continued to focus on two other capabilities: human suborbital spaceflight operations and advanced aerospace design, manufacturing, and testing.[26]

In October 2019, Virgin Orbit announced that Matthew Stannard was joining as a pilot on a three-year contract. Stannard had previously served in the Royal Air Force as a test and evaluation pilot notably on Typhoon jets. At that time Orbit was about to start testing its Cosmic Girl launch platform.[27]

A few months prior to going public, Virgin Orbit was owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group and the Emirati state-owned Mubadala, which had invested about $1 billion in Virgin Orbit through August 2021.

In August 2021 when the SPAC merger was announced, Virgin Orbit estimated it needed $420 million in cash, starting in the second half of 2021, to reach positive cash flow in 2024. When it went public in December 2021, after completing its SPAC merger, the company raised $228 million, less than half than the $483 million it expected to raise. Virgin Orbit held an "opening bell" ceremony at Nasdaq on January 7, 2022 to celebrate going public;[28] it opened at $10 per share.[29]

When the SPAC merger was announced in August 2021, Virgin Orbit aimed to be profitable on an EBITDA-basis by end of Q4 2024. The company said it had about $300 million in active contracts, and expected its rocket launch business to grow to about 18 launches in 2023. The company expected to have about $15 million in revenue in 2021, with an EBITDA loss of $156 million; however, it aimed at further revenue growth, reaching $2.1 billion in revenue by 2026.[4]

The company's third-quarter financial report, issued in November 2022, showed cash on hand of $71.2 million, $30.9 million in revenue, and an adjusted EBITDA loss of $42.9 million for the period.[29] The company's backlog of binding contracts fell by 12%, to $143 million, compared to the end of the prior quarter, and forecast that it would only have three launches in 2022, compared to a forecast of four to six, made earlier in 2022.[30]

Bankruptcy and dissolution[edit]

On March 16, 2023, Virgin Orbit announced a pausing of operations and furloughing of nearly its entire staff, while seeking additional funding. Causes for the event are cited as both capital management and technical. Virgin Orbit recorded a loss of US$139.5 million for the first nine months of 2022.[31] Matthew Brown Companies, a Texas and Hawaii based venture capital firm led by Dallas-based Matthew Brown, made a $200 million tender for the company but ultimately fell fell through.[32] Board members had approved golden parachute plans for executives previously.[29][33] The company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 4, 2023.[6]

Assets were divested to three major bidders in May 2023: Rocket Lab acquired the company's Long Beach facility and tooling for $16 million, Launcher purchased the company's Mojave test site for $3 million, and the Cosmic Girl aircraft was sold to Stratolaunch Systems for $17 million.[34][35]

VOX Space[edit]

VOX Space is a subsidiary of Virgin Orbit that was created in 2020. The company supplies launch services for the US military, sometimes referred to as the "national security launch market."[36] The company uses the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne launch vehicle. The current president as of July 2022 is Mark Baird, who took over on August 17, 2021.[37]

In April 2020, VOX Space was awarded a US$35 million contract for three launches of 44 cubesats for US Space Force. The first of these launches succeeded on July 2, 2022.[36][38][39]

Other projects[edit]


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Virgin Orbit announced it was a partner with the University of California Irvine and the University of Texas at Austin in a new venture to build simplified mechanical ventilators — specifically "bridge ventilators" for partially recovered patients and patients not in intensive care — to address the critical global shortage of ventilators.[40][41] They were granted an emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April 2020.[42]

Launch site in the UK[edit]

Virgin Orbit agreed to launch space flights from Spaceport Cornwall[43] in a project partly funded by the UK Space Agency.[44]

Virgin Orbit's first and only UK launch took place on January 9, 2023.[45] The rocket failed to reach orbit.[46]

Launch site in Brazil[edit]

In April 2021, the Brazilian Space Agency disclosed the company among those selected to operate orbital launches from the Alcantara Launch Center in Brazil.[47] On June 27, 2022, Virgin Orbit announced a Brazil-based subsidiary, Virgin Orbit Brasil Ltda, which will facilitate launches from the Alcantara Launch Center. The Brazil-based launch center is just two degrees south of the Equator, allowing launches to almost every orbital inclination.[48]

Launch site in Australia[edit]

In September 2022, Virgin Orbit signed an agreement with Wagner Corporation to base a 747-400 launch aircraft at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport in Queensland with a demonstrator launch planned for 2024.[49]


  1. ^ Fernholz, Tim (June 13, 2017). "Virgin Orbit's newly-minted CEO will use psychology to launch satellites faster than anyone else". Quartz. Retrieved June 13, 2017.
  2. ^ Irene Klotz (March 2, 2017). "Virgin Galactic Unveils Spin-Off Virgin Orbit for Small-Satellite Launches".
  3. ^ "Virgin Orbit lands in Times Square NYC to ring NASDAQ bell". January 7, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Branson's Virgin Orbit to go public through a SPAC at $3.7 billion valuation". CNBC. August 23, 2021.
  5. ^ Will, Luke (January 10, 2023). "Virgin Orbit's Launcher One Fails to Reach Orbit". Travel Radar. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  6. ^ a b Roulette, Joey (April 4, 2023). "Branson's Virgin Orbit files for bankruptcy". Reuters. Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  7. ^ Race, Michael (April 4, 2023). "Virgin Orbit: Richard Branson's rocket firm files for bankruptcy". BBC News. Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  8. ^ Sheetz, Michael (May 23, 2023). "Virgin Orbit sells assets in bankruptcy auction to Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch and Vast's Launcher". CNBC. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  9. ^ "LauncherOne (L1)".
  10. ^ Christian Davenport (January 17, 2021). "Virgin Orbit rocket reaches Earth orbit, adding an entrant to the commercial space race". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ Watch this rocket launch from the wing of a jumbo jet - CNN Video, January 18, 2021, retrieved January 19, 2021
  12. ^ January 2021, Mike Wall 17 (January 17, 2021). "Virgin Orbit launches 10 satellites to orbit in landmark test flight". Retrieved January 21, 2021.
  13. ^ "Branson's Virgin rocket takes satellites to orbit". BBC News. January 17, 2021. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
  14. ^ SpaceX [@SpaceX] (June 30, 2021). "Tracking footage of Falcon 9 landing on LZ-1" (Tweet). Archived from the original on July 9, 2021. Retrieved July 20, 2021 – via Twitter.
  15. ^ Foust, Jeff (January 14, 2022). "Virgin Orbit launches seven cubesats on third operational mission". SpaceNews. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  16. ^ Foust, Jeff (July 2, 2022). "Virgin Orbit launches Space Force mission". SpaceNews. Archived from the original on January 10, 2023. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
  17. ^ Burghardt, Thomas (July 2022). "Virgin Orbit launches seven satellites for US Space Force and NASA". NASASpaceFlight. Archived from the original on July 2, 2022. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
  18. ^ Morris, Steven (January 9, 2023). "UK's first orbital rocket mission takes off from Cornwall". the Guardian. Archived from the original on January 10, 2023. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  19. ^ Graham, William (January 9, 2023). "Virgin Orbit fails on first mission from the UK with Start Me Up". Archived from the original on January 10, 2023. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  20. ^ Berger, Eric (January 10, 2023). "The first orbital launch attempt from the UK ends in failure". Ars Technica. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  21. ^ "Virgin jumbo arrives in Cornwall for UK space launch". BBC News. October 11, 2022. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  22. ^ "Branson's Virgin rocket takes satellites to orbit". BBC News. January 17, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  23. ^ "Virgin Orbit Announces 2 More Boeing 747 Rocket Launches". June 28, 2022.
  24. ^ Davenport, Christian (March 2, 2017). "Richard Branson starting a new venture dedicated to launching small satellites into space". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  25. ^ "Virgin Galactic Makes Satellite Launch Service New Company". U.S. News & World Report. Associated Press. March 2, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  26. ^ "Welcome, Virgin Orbit!". Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic. Archived from the original on March 8, 2017. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
  27. ^ Virgin Orbit selects RAF pilot as it plans satellite launch program, Ed Adamczyk, SpaceDaily, 2019-10-04
  28. ^ "Virgin Orbit raises far less than expected from SPAC merger". December 29, 2021.
  29. ^ a b c Sheetz, Michael (March 15, 2023). "Virgin Orbit pauses operations for a week, furloughs nearly entire staff as it seeks funding". CNBC. Retrieved March 16, 2023.
  30. ^ Sheetz, Michael (November 7, 2022). "Virgin Orbit raises $25 million from Branson's conglomerate as cash reserve dwindles". CNBC. Retrieved March 16, 2023.
  31. ^ Alamalhodaei, Aria (March 17, 2023). "At Virgin Orbit, it never should've come to a staff furlough". TechCrunch. Retrieved March 17, 2023.
  32. ^ "Virgin Orbit raising $200 million from investor Matthew Brown, closing deal as soon as Thursday". CNBC.
  33. ^ Sheetz, Michael. "Virgin Orbit fails to secure funding, will cease operations and lay off nearly entire workforce until further notice". CNBC. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  34. ^ "Virgin Orbit receives $17 million bid from Stratolaunch for carrier plane and related aircraft assets".
  35. ^ Sheetz, Michael (May 23, 2023). "Virgin Orbit sells assets in bankruptcy auction to Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch and Vast's Launcher". CNBC. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  36. ^ a b Erwin, Sandra (April 10, 2019). "Virgin Orbit's VOX Space wins $35 million U.S. Space Force launch contract". SpaceNews. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  37. ^ "Mark Baird named president of VOX Space". SpaceNews. August 17, 2021. Retrieved July 13, 2022.
  38. ^ Kanayama, Lee (April 10, 2020). "LauncherOne Cryo Captive Carry test on Cosmic Girl - wins smallsat missions". Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  39. ^ Clark, Stephen. "Virgin Orbit's first night launch a success; UK mission next – Spaceflight Now". Retrieved July 13, 2022.
  40. ^ "Virgin Orbit designs new ventilator as part of Virgin Group's efforts to combat coronavirus," March, 2020,, retrieved April 2, 2020
  41. ^ "Branson's Virgin Orbit to begin coronavirus ventilator mass production," March 30, 2020, NBC News, retrieved April 2, 2020.
  42. ^ Darrell Etherington, "Virgin Orbit's ventilators gain FDA authorization, deliveries to hospitals will start within days," April 23, 2020, TechCrunch. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  43. ^ "Virgin Orbit one step closer to launches from Spaceport Cornwall". Virgin Orbit.
  44. ^ "U.K. Government to fund spaceport improvements for Virgin Orbit". Space News. November 6, 2019.
  45. ^ "UK space launch: Historic Cornwall rocket mission set to blast off". BBC News. January 9, 2023.
  46. ^ "UK space launch: Historic Cornwall rocket launch ends in failure". BBC News. January 9, 2023.
  47. ^ "Virgin Orbit Selected to Bring Orbital Launch Capabilities to Brazil". Virgin Orbit. April 28, 2021.
  48. ^ "Virgin Orbit Formally Establishes New Brazilian Subsidiary and Receives Operator's License for Launch Operations in Alcântara". June 27, 2022. Retrieved July 13, 2022.
  49. ^ "Toowoomba Airport to become 747 rocket launch site". Australian Aviation. September 20, 2022.

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